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Focaccia is a popular Italian yeast bread which is sometimes compared to pizza, because both are flat breads. The focus of focaccia, however, is on the bread, rather than the toppings, although toppings for focaccia are almost as diverse as those on pizza. Many bakeries around the world sell focaccia, which is best when it is warm out of the oven. It is also possible to make focaccia at home, although a wood fired oven is highly recommended.
The base of focaccia is a basic yeast dough which is typically rolled out into large pans so that it is baked in a rectangular shape, which is cut for serving. Some bakers mold focaccia into rounds, which are generally sold as whole loaves. The top of the focaccia is dimpled and brushed with oil to keep the bread moist and flavorful, and other toppings such as salt, herbs, garlic, sundried tomatoes, and olives may be sprinkled on top. The most basic focaccia is simply an herbed and oiled bread with salt, but the variations are endless.
The dimpling in the dough is usually accomplished by poking it gently with the fingers just before dressing the bread. The dimples collect oil and other treats as the bread bakes, releasing the toppings in an explosion of flavor when they are bitten. A well made focaccia should feel light and flavorful, rather than greasy and heavy, and it can be eaten alone as a treat, used as a side with soups and salads, or used to make a grilled sandwich such as a classic Italian panino. Focaccia is also excellent when lightly grilled as a snack.
To make focaccia, bakers can either start with a chef or sourdough starter for a more tangy flavor, or they can use regular yeast. For a basic focaccia, combine two packages of yeast with a cup of warm water and allow the yeast to foam while mixing three quarters of a cup of water with one third cup olive oil and one and one half teaspoons salt. Add the yeast mixture and blend in around five cups of unbleached white flour to make a stiff dough, which should be kneaded until elastic and allowed to rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in size.
After the rising, punch the dough down, knead it briefly, and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before rolling it out onto a large rectangular pan. Cover the focaccia, let it rise until doubled, and then dimple it before spreading it with olive oil and desired toppings. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (204 degrees Celsius) for around 15 minutes, until puffy and golden brown, or bake the focaccia in a brick lined wood fired oven for a more authentic and flavorful bread. Serve as desired.